For a while now we’ve been writing regular Tuesday Tips posts — posts in which we share little parenting insights, tips and things that we’ve learned or picked up over the years. We enjoy these posts a lot, both writing them and reading them, and especially the tips and tricks that our readers leave in the comments section (or sent by email).
But sometimes we just want to share a thought, a question, or an insecurity. Something we don’t know the answer to, but something we want to talk about and hear your thoughts on. So we’re going to start a new series called ‘Thursday Thoughts’, and we hope you will enjoy and join in (and we hope we will learn and grow from it)!
Sara is now 10 years old, and the inevitable question has come up — when does she get a cell phone? Some of her friends (including her best friend) have been given a cell phone for their 10th birthday, and apparently about a third of the children in her class now have of a phone of their own.
We are not big screen-users in our family. It seems that there are roughly two routes to take when you are raising children — you are either relaxed or restrictive about screens — we lean toward the latter. Our kids do not have an Ipad or Ipod, and hardly watch television (they do watch the occasional dvd though). But, when we are having dinner and one of the kids has an interesting question or insight that we can’t respond to accurately, we tell them to search for the Ipad and look up the answer. And, now that it’s getting colder and wetter and it’s dark early, we sometimes like to cosy up in the living room and watch a fun film together. So I guess we don’t ban out screens completely, we’re relaxed restrictive about them.
With that in mind, I always thought the age of 12 would be a good age to give my children a mobile phone. They are then in the last year of primary school, and they will have started to cycle to their school, their friends and their after-school activities by themselves. An age, I imagine, when they will need (and get) more independence, and a mobile phone might make sense. They are hopefully responsible enough by then, plus, it could come in handy at times.
As a child, I had to cycle 8 kilometers to secondary school every morning, and back every afternoon. ‘Through rain and wind’, as we say here in the Netherlands. On a few occasions, cycling was impossible — a lot of snow on the way, or a flat tyre, for example — and I would have to find a house on the way, ring the bell, and ask kindly if I could make a phone call to my mum so she could come and pick me up. I sometimes wonder, do children nowadays have a chance to develop the (social) skills to deal with these sorts of little problems in life, when they get a mobile phone at such an early age?
A friend of mine has 3 children, 2 teenage boys and a tween girl. His wife passed away a few years ago, so he has the tough job to raise his kids all alone. He has always been extremely relaxed about screens; he feels that they are such an integral part of our lives, that it’s only natural to let children grow up with them. He gave his daughter a cell phone (no smart phone though) when she was seven, so they could reach each other on the days that he was working outside the city. When she was ten she got a smart phone, and he says it’s all good.
I was talking with Courtney about this (who has even stricter views on electronics) and she nearly fainted (half joking) when I mentioned it might soon be time to give Sara a phone. She said that this is a parenting decision that is still so far away for her, that she hasn’t really even thought about it yet, but she guessed it would definitely not happen before her kids were 16, and then certainly no smart phone!
So many parents, so many opinions.
But I think I might have to reconsider mine. I wonder if maybe the age of 12 is a bit late in our Amsterdam way-of-life. If, next year, most if not all of the children in Sara’s class have a phone, should I still keep her from getting one? Even if we wouldn’t allow her to bring her phone to school yet, she could still join the class WhatsApp group, and send messages to her friends, and use it on occasions after school?
It’s a difficult decision to make, and I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions about it to help me shape my own!